San Diego To convict a man of murder, jurors need only be certain of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. One thing, however, is usually metaphysically certain; that the victim is dead. Yet on August 29, 2001, a former Santee man named James Edward Dailey was found guilty of the murder of his wife, Guadalupe Dailey, though such certainty of her death was impossible.
The body of Guadalupe -- called "Lupe" by those who knew her -- has never been found. A murder weapon was never found. Dailey never confessed to killing her. No new evidence was ever produced since the district attorney's office decided not to pursue the case in 1997 and 1998. Still, after a trial that both prosecutor and defense attorney describe as unique and challenging, Dailey was convicted. "It was a no-body homicide," deputy district attorney Dan Goldstein recalls, "and that makes the case unique. We don't do a whole lot of those. And often in no-body homicides you have a part of the body or something like that. But in this case, you have her basically vanished."
"Well, the Dailey case was really interesting and challenging," deputy public defender Michael Begovich recalls, "because it was the first murder trial that I ever had in which there was never a body recovered and there were no body parts recovered. That is very, very rare. Because one of the things you have to prove as a prosecutor is that there is a body, a dead body. Corpus, they call it. Therefore, the defense has to prove a negative. If the D.A. can't find the body, then the defense tries to prove that maybe she is not dead. And it's difficult to prove a negative.
"Under the law," Begovich continues, "the defense doesn't have to prove anything. Your client is presumed innocent and the D.A. has the burden of proof. But several studies show that you really have to prove someone innocent. In this case, one way to do that is to prove she may still be alive."
James and Guadalupe Dailey married in 1995. James was just finishing a five-year stint as a corrections officer at the Donovan Correctional Facility. Lupe's sister, Rosa Keene, was also a corrections officer at Donovan during that time. In early 1997, James, 31, was working in security at Viejas Casino. Lupe, 26, was the director of a Santee daycare center called La Petite Academy. At that point, only two years into their marriage, the Daileys separated and hired a paralegal to work out a noncontested divorce. For four months, they lived in separate apartments in Santee. Their two young children, then four and two, spent most of the time with Lupe. The divorce was expected to be finalized sometime that September.
As Labor Day weekend 1997 approached, Lupe made plans to take a road trip to Las Vegas with Allen Thompson, a man she had worked with at SeaWorld a couple of years earlier. They had lately rekindled their friendship, and it had become sexually intimate. Court documents continue the story: "Thompson testified that on the morning of August 31, 1997, he and [Lupe] finalized plans for their trip to Las Vegas. They were to leave that afternoon between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. They had decided that [they] would drive in Dailey's truck. Thompson explained that [Lupe] seemed to be looking forward to their trip when he talked to her that morning but [she] needed to take care of a few matters before she could leave. [Lupe] said that she had to go to the bank, and then go over to James Edward Dailey's apartment to drop off her kids."
That day, around noon, Lupe drove to the apartment of Eric Cameron, an active-duty sailor whom she had met at the Driftwood Lounge, a bar on Mission Gorge Road in Santee, which they both frequented. The two were involved in an ongoing, sexual relationship. She borrowed a blue nylon overnight bag from Cameron to use on her Las Vegas trip. As Cameron and Lupe talked outside by her car, one of Cameron's roommates, Tommy Tucker, another sailor, who had very recently ended a sexual relationship with Lupe, "heckled" them from inside the apartment.
Around 2:00 that afternoon, according to court documents, Thompson paged Lupe but received no response. He later told sheriff's detectives that was very unusual. "He paged her several times through the day," court papers relate, "as well as tried to call her at home. Around 5:00 p.m., Thompson actually drove by Dailey's apartment but to no avail. Both [Lupe] and her truck were not there."
From Lupe's apartment, Thompson went to the Driftwood Lounge but didn't see her truck in the parking lot. Thompson again paged her, again it wasn't returned. Thinking he'd been stood up, he went home and tried to drink away his disappointment.
Earlier that day, Lupe's sister, Rosa Keene, had also paged her and gotten no response. Like Thompson, she later told detectives that was uncharacteristic. Around 6:30 that evening, she called James Dailey and asked whether he'd seen Lupe. "He stated that he saw [Lupe] when she showed up around 1:30 p.m.," court documents say, "but that she had left around 6:30 p.m. He further explained that they had fought about rent money that she felt he owed her, and money for [Lupe] to go to Las Vegas."
During that phone conversation, James Dailey asked Keene if she could baby-sit his children because he was stressed out and wanted to go out. Keene pleaded exhaustion and suggested that Dailey call and ask another sister, Mary Mena, which he did at about 7:30 p.m. She agreed and Dailey picked her up at her parents' house and returned to his apartment at about 8:45 p.m. Around that same time, Thompson, now drunk, made a second trip to Lupe's apartment. Finding her absent, he returned to his pickup, where he fell asleep.
Between 10:30 and 11:00 p.m., Dailey left his apartment. He later told police that he then trailered his small boat to Mission Bay, where he launched it thinking a midnight cruise on the water would help him unwind. However, he had problems with engine cables so he retrailered the boat and, stopping at a Vons in Pacific Beach, he returned to his apartment three to four hours after he had left it.